One of Roswell’s biggest tourism draws, the International UFO Museum and Research Center, 114 N. Main St., will be closed for several weeks in compliance with orders from the State Health Department to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Museum Director Jim Hill said the staff had hoped to have an extra day before closing to send out a press release and other notifications.
“About midmorning on Wednesday, we had decided to go ahead and start closing for a period of time starting Friday because we just felt like it was the thing we should do given the number of people we have potentially coming in,” Hill said.
However, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issuing an order Wednesday for further closures and restrictions on businesses, that sped up the museum’s closure.
“That pretty much sealed the deal. There’s no way we could comply with a 10-person rule and things like that. It’s just the right thing to do,” Hill said.
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The museum posted a notice on its website and Facebook page Thursday morning, saying it planned to close until at least April 10. Online orders from the gift shop will still be mailed out during that time, the notice said.
The museum employs about 20 full-time and part-time positions, Hill said, and all will remain on the payroll.
“At least for the foreseeable future, we’re going to continue to pay them based on what their regularly scheduled hours would have been,” he said.
“It’s a good group and we just want to take care of them,” he said.
Typically in March, the museum attracts more than 30,000 visitors, Hill said, with peak visitation on the weekends of 1,700 to 1,800 and 500 to 700 on weekdays. But those numbers have dropped since the spread of coronavirus in the U.S.
At first, the decrease was a relief, Hill said, as it gave the museum staff time for the extra sanitation steps they were taking. Throughout the day, staff worked to keep surfaces such as counters and even pens disinfected. That was in addition to a professional janitorial service coming in twice a day, wiping down surfaces with disinfectant wipes and returning at night to deep clean the facility.
“We felt like it was possibly getting manageable. As of March 9, we were down about 5% from last year, which was a record-breaking year,” Hill said.
“Just last week, we’ve been down about 20%. So it was slowing considerably,” he said.
During the closure, a skeleton crew will be working at the museum, Hill said. A few administrators will make sure tasks such as payroll and paying bills are done. Other employees will work between about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on shipping and receiving the merchandise.
“The big logistics problem is not so much shipping stuff out, but we still need to have merchandise ready to go when we do open up again, hopefully on (April) 11,” he said.
Hill said he believes the museum will be able to weather the closure, but he worries about businesses that benefit from the museum’s visitors.
“It’s going to have a pretty significant impact on them, and we’re just hoping for them and hopefully they’ll be able to open right back up and get it going again,” he said.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.